Easter Cliches

March 24th, 2015

Every priest I know struggles with Easter sermons. Everyone has heard it all before; it’s hard to say anything new.

But, in addition, it’s also hard to wrap our minds around the event that Easter celebrates. What was “the Resurrection of Jesus Christ from the Dead?” What does it mean to us, 2000 years later? What new life do we have now?

Perhaps it’s worth noting that Easter is not so much to be thought about as to be experienced. And in the experience of Holy Week and Easter, the imagination is as much an engine of inspiration as the reason.

That’s why we walk the way of the Cross with Jesus from Palm Sunday to Maundy Thursday and the Last Supper, to Good Friday and the Cross, and to Easter Eve and the New Fire before we arrive at the joy of Easter Day. In doing so, we go way beyond the cliches.

Happy Holy Week. –J. Douglas Ousley


God v. Allah

March 17th, 2015

At the Men’s and Women’s Group meetings at Incarnation this week, we are discussing the differences between the Christian God and the Muslim Allah.

The standard philosophical view in recent years has been that all major religions ultimately worship the same Divine Reality, though that reality is conceived in different ways and described in different language. Keith Ward, for example, says that the major religions all present “Images of Eternity;” John Hick says that the different faiths worship the same “Real.”

This benign view of the different religions has been undermined, however, by the violence of some Muslims in the practice of their faith. Allah seems to order them to do things that God would never ask Christians to do. (I have never heard of a Christian suicide bomber, for example.) This leads one to ask whether Allah really is the same God as the Christian Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

One thing is certain: skeptical journalists for whom all religion is nonsense can’t be relied upon to make theological distinctions! –J. Douglas Ousley

Don’t Postpone Joy

March 4th, 2015

I remember reading this sign years ago in a toy shop: “Don’t postpone joy.”

While the slogan has a kind of 1960’s feel to it, the idea that we should enjoy the present moment as far as we possibly can is surely good advice. As we discussed in our Lent Class on Monday, it is recommended by the new happiness theorists such as Daniel Kahneman and Paul Dolan, who use social science to recommend ways to make ordinary life more pleasing. And of course such statements as “This is the day which the Lord hath made; we will be glad and rejoice in it” are plentiful in the Bible.

I also spoke in the Lent Class about how Christian faith can help us design our lives so that we maximize joy. Not a bad subject for meditation during this season. –J. Douglas Ousley

Lenten Malaise

February 23rd, 2015

Lent is only  1/8 over and lassitude seems already to have set in. I can’t remember a year when so few people talked about what they were giving up for Lent or what activities they wanted to take on.

Fortunately, we have a series of lectures coming up on “Faith and the Emotions,” as well as a series of House Eucharists in parishioners’ homes. Both of these activities are new; I hope they will do something to relieve the boredom of Lent here at Incarnation.

Some of the malaise may stem from the unremitting bad weather of this winter. So much of our lives are indoors, it’s amazing that we care so much about the climate outside.

All the more reason to look inside–not least, to look at the state of our souls. –J. Douglas Ousley


February 11th, 2015

A large task force of Episcopal Church leaders has prepared a massive proposal of church restructuring that will be considered by the General Convention this summer. The House of Bishops is now getting ready to elect a new Presiding Bishop, who will serve for nine years.

The winds of change are blowing, which is just as well, since membership in the Episcopal Church declines every year, and dioceses pay less and less of the money they owe to the national church (about one-fifth of assessments aren’t paid.) Unfortunately, restructuring is can be a great substitute for the kind of change that actually increases membership and builds up the church.

Politicking to elect a new leader provides an excuse to avoid the harder work of deciding what a leader ought to say and do. Changing the structure of the church doesn’t necessarily help it define membership. People will be more likely to join us if they know what we stand for. –J. Douglas Ousley

Better Ways to End It All

February 3rd, 2015

With 10 parishioners infirm, sick, or otherwise ailing, I read with great interest Being Mortal by Atul Gawande. Dr. Gawande is a surgeon who teaches at Harvard and writes wonderful pieces for The New Yorker.

Two takeaways for me from this important book on aging and end-of -life-issues:

***There are new nursing facilities that allow for some independence–even at the risk that patients will fall or otherwise injure themselves. I can’t wait for such a place to open in New York City, where most patients are confined to their wheelchairs most of the day.

***Those with terminal illness can often reduce their discomfort by palliative care. To do so, they forego aggressive treatment that has little chance of healing them. This is certainly a better way to approach death–and, for Christians, to prepare for life with God. –J. Douglas Ousley


Snow and Contemplation

January 27th, 2015

Although the authorities wildly overestimated the power of the storm, it has been nice to have no traffic on the roads and a peaceful blanket of white on our urban neighborhood. Since I don’t have to commute to work, I was on hand this morning to shovel the sidewalks and conduct Morning Prayer; one faithful parishioner  wasin attendance.

Later, our office volunteer came in by cab and our sexton is on the way and the phone has started ringing and emails are pinging–so life is returning to normal. But the morning quiet reminds us of why we in the religion business do what we do. To care for the church and pray in it and enjoy its peace. Nothing better. Nothing more important. –J. Douglas Ousley

Paris in the Winter

January 13th, 2015

Our Men’s Group devoted part of last night’s regular meeting to discussing the recent terror attacks in Paris.

Comments were wide-ranging, reflecting the many political orientations of our membership. Some cited history, others sought to find common ground among opponents, others suggested specific prayers. My own worry is that Islamists have become so extreme in their views that they will only be stopped by violence.

Is the sanguine view of liberal Christians that at their heart, all religions are basically the same now a dubious assumption? We have always dissociated ourselves from Christian fanatics who pervert the Gospel in favor of prejudice. But the Islamist fanatics seem to be taking their beliefs to a new level of extremism. (One indication of this development is that Islamic State was founded by a group of Islamists who were kicked out of Al-Qaeda because they were regarded as too violent!) It now remains to be seen whether Islam can restore its own reputation and be regarded as one way among many to the Divine. –J. Douglas Ousley

What Would Jesus Do?

December 17th, 2014

Not too long ago, some Christians were wearing the letters, “WWJD.” They stood for, “What would Jesus do?”

The letters were intended to remind the wearer that, when faced with a difficult moral decision, Christians should always ask themselves what Jesus would do if he were in the same situation.

The fad has passed–and just as well. For Jesus never had to decide whether to drink and drive or whether to support hydraulic fracturing or any number of modern ethical dilemmas; the question is meaningless in those situations.

Much more important is to ask what Jesus does do. We have countless reminders of the answer to this question in the Advent and Christmas seasons when we are reminded that Jesus is a “Savior.” He has come to save us from our sins–to save us from ourselves. Jesus doesn’t save us from pain or toil or heartbreak, but he does save is from giving up in the face of pain.

“What does Jesus do?” What is Christ our Savior already doing for us? –J. Douglas Ousley

All’s Fair

December 1st, 2014

The 72nd Annual Incarnation Christmas Fair will be held this Saturday from 11 AM to 6 PM.

Seventy-two years of Fair is a lot. This event attracts more visitors and phone calls, not to mention money, than any other non-liturgical happening at Incarnation. Admittedly, it’s a sop to consumerism. It also produces much-needed revenue.

But the Fair has other advantages for our church. It gives us a chance to meet and greet many people we wouldn’t otherwise encounter because they don’t share our faith. It demonstrates to the surrounding world that we aren’t just a pile of expensively-repaired stones.

Above all, the gifts on sale are unsubtle reminders of the reason for the season: the Incarnation of the Son of God. The greatest gift of our God.

Which is why this isn’t a a holiday fair. It’s a Christmas Fair. –J. Douglas Ousley